Historical Landscape Architecture

Design for Historic Landscapes

Woodrow Wilson Family Home

Columbia, South Carolina

Historic Columbia Foundation (HCF) engaged Commonwealth to rehabilitate the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, South Carolina’s only presidential site. Constructed in 1872 on a one-acre lot, the Italianate villa style structure is a unique example in Columbia of the style popularized by Andrew Jackson Downing, reflecting the city’s Reconstruction Era. The team prepared measured drawings, building and cultural landscape conditions assessments, and archaeological investigations to locate the footprints of the original semi-detached kitchen and stable. The restoration of the house included structural repairs, window repair, new roofing, and repainting with a historic paint color scheme. Other projects included ADA-compliant access, new climate control and fire suppression systems, historic interior restoration, a new rear yard dependency to accommodate mechanical equipment and visitor amenities, and rehabilitation of the front garden and domestic rear yard spaces to accommodate event programming and visitation. For this project, Historic Columbia received the South Carolina Historic Preservation Honor Award in 2014; the South Carolina Federation of Museums Award of Achievement, Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Society Award of Merit, and the American Association of State and Local History Award of Merit, in 2015; and the Victorian Society in America Award in 2016.

Drennen-Scott House

Van Buren, Arkansas

Commonwealth prepared a master plan and design documents for the rehabilitation of this historic site to accommodate the University of Arkansas’ Historical Interpretation Program and for educational tours. The Drennen-Scott House, built in 1836 by John Drennen, is one of the oldest surviving pioneer dwellings in Arkansas. Drennen served his country and community as both an elected and an appointed official and his son-in-law, Charles Scott, was a local business leader and distinguished himself in the Civil War. Their descendants occupied the house for almost 170 years, expanding it to its current configuration. Caroline Scott and her mother, Frances, were responsible for developing and expanding the gardens. Commonwealth began by preparing a historic property report, including a detailed history of the evolution of the house and site, significance analysis, and determination of eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places. Based on this documentation, Commonwealth developed a master plan to accommodate new facilities, including a visitor center, expanded parking, site circulation, interpretation, and renovation of the site’s historic Arts and Crafts style gardens. The project was completed by Commonwealth with design implementation and construction administration services. The project received the Excellence in Historic Preservation Through Restoration Award from the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas.

Fort Bliss Main Post National Historic District

El Paso, Texas

The U.S. Army consulted with Commonwealth on three projects affecting the cultural landscape of the Fort Bliss Main Post. Fort Bliss was an important outpost in the US Army’s early twentieth-century Mexican Border Zone Project and early efforts by the War Department to create a cavalry division along the US-Mexico border. The Fort Bliss Main Post National Historic District contains over 300 contributing resources, including eleven historic landscapes. These resources are remarkably intact and serve as lasting reminders of the important contributions of the fort to American history. Commonwealth developed a handbook to guide tenants of the fort’s historic properties in landscape-related projects. The handbook features schematic designs for each historic building type, general planting and maintenance guidelines, lists of recommended xeric plants, and water-conserving irrigation techniques, and made recommendations based on the Department of Defense’s Minimum Anti-Terrorism Standards for Buildings. Subsequently, Commonwealth developed planting and irrigation plans for the Main Post’s parade field and historic streets, including a cost benefit analysis, tree inventory, and tree replacement plan to enhance, preserve, and expand the green spaces of the historic district while conserving limited water resources. Commonwealth also completed a cultural landscape integrity analysis for the fort’s Beaumont Hospital. Commonwealth received Fort Bliss’ Outstanding Beneficial Landscape Environmental Quality Award for the handbook project.

George Rogers Clark Memorial National Historical Site

Vincennes, Indiana

Commonwealth developed design plans and construction drawings for the rehabilitation of the landscape at George Rogers Clark Memorial National Historical Park. The park commemorates the actions of Lt. Col. Clark and his frontiersmen, who captured Fort Sackville from the British in 1779. Considered one of the greatest feats of the American Revolution, this victory contributed to the establishment of the Northwest Territory. The memorial park is nationally significant for its Neoclassical composition of landscape, building, and structures designed by some of the nation’s most notable leaders of the City Beautiful Movement, including architects, H. Van Buren Magonigle and Frederic C. Hirons, and landscape architects, William E. Parsons and Donald Johnson. The memorial building and its landscape also host a number of artistic and sculptural works by Ezra Augustus Winter, Albin Polasek, John Angel, Raoul Jean Josset, Hermon A. MacNeil, Roy E. King, and Joseph A. Kiselewski. In 2010, the National Park Service retained Commonwealth to develop a new National Register of Historic Places nomination, greatly expanding the original to include landscape architectural and artistic resources, and additional areas of significance. The site was successfully listed in 2012. Subsequently, Commonwealth developed design plans for the creation of pedestrian plazas that had been planned for the park in the 1930s, but never implemented, and for the rehabilitation of historic plantings using species that are more disease- and pest-resistant.

Washington Avenue Mall

Fredericksburg, Virginia

Commonwealth conducted an assessment and design to support preservation of Fredericksburg’s Washington Avenue Mall, laid out in 1859. This historic monumental avenue, which lies within the Washington Avenue National Historic District, was inspired by the ideals and values expressed in Pierre L’Enfant’s plan for Washington, D.C. The boulevard form of Washington Avenue expanded the layout of the original core of Fredericksburg, and was intended to become a promenade leading northward from Plank Road to the Mary Washington Monument. Recently, initiatives to improve Fredericksburg’s urban forest have inspired local debate over the location and role of trees within the Washington Avenue Mall. Commonwealth was retained by a group of concerned citizens to conduct a historical assessment and prepare a schematic planting plan as an alternative to the plan under consideration by the city. Primary among the clients’ concerns was the negative effect of newly-planted trees on traditional views to the avenue’s monuments and to the turn-of-the-twentieth-century houses that line the avenue. Commonwealth compared today’s landscape with documentary information on historic conditions, and assessed the degree to which landscape and planting restoration would feasible in the context of the historic, interpretive, and visitor experience. The developed alternative plan was based on the historical assessment, and incorporated previously proposed changes within the historic district.

Historic Blenheim and Civil War Interpretive Center

Fairfax, Virginia

Commonwealth completed design plans for the interpretation at Historic Blenheim and the construction of a new visitor center. Historic Blenheim preserves twelve-acre remnant of what had been a large farm prior to the Civil War. The site, now located at the center of Fairfax, contains the ca. 1860 historic house; artifacts from its period of use as a Union hospital, including a large collection of Civil War graffiti; and remnants of a Colonial Revival boxwood garden, an early twentieth century cemetery, and another historic house relocated to the site. Commonwealth was retained by the City of Fairfax, which has owned Blenheim since 1999, to develop the Historic Blenheim Master Plan and a site plan for the Historic Blenheim Civil War Interpretive Center. The center provides visitor amenities, and house artifacts and museum staff outside of the historic house, which is itself considered a historic artifact. Commonwealth’s landscape architects developed the site plan in collaboration with the architects and civil, structural, and electrical engineers in schematic, design development, construction documentation, and construction observation phases. Site amenities designed by Commonwealth and the team included a new entrance drive, parking lot, native stone retaining wall, and bus turnaround; a TEA-21-funded bicycle path; tree and shrub plantings and a rain garden; and ADA-compliant walking paths with interpretive nodes.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Springfield, Illinois

Commonwealth completed design development and implementation documents for the interpretation of 12 residential lots within Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Lincoln Home NHS protects and interprets the house where Abraham Lincoln lived with his family from 1844 to 1861, when he became President of the United States, and its four block neighborhood setting. After Lincoln’s death, the Lincoln lot and house remained in the family until 1887, when Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, deeded the property to the State of Illinois with the stipulation that the home remain well-maintained and available to the public for visitation free of charge. The house and four block setting became a unit of the National Park Service in 1971. The National Park Service commissioned Commonwealth to complete the landscape architectural design development and implementation documentation to convey a sense of the landscape character, textures, materials, and spatial qualities of the historic period by adding vegetation, paving, fencing, interpretive exhibits, and site furnishings. Features include outlines of missing building footprints made of a variety of materials, such as brick and wood, and fences that indicate historic lot lines.

McCormick Road and Pavilion Alleys

University of Virginia, Charlottesville

Commonwealth completed four projects within the McCormick Road and Pavilion Alleys section of the Academical Village, a World Heritage Site designed by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. The University of Virginia received the American Society of Landscape Architects’ prestigious Centennial Medallion for the preservation of one of the nation’s “most influential landscapes” with “enduring appeal” and a “perfectly proportioned balance between buildings and landscape.” The university engaged Commonwealth to prepare a historic landscape study for the road corridors that lead to the Academical Village, including McCormick Road, and six walled gardens, each defined by Jefferson-designed serpentine brick walls and separated by the Pavilion Alleys. The study identified several problem areas and made recommendations for improvements. The university then engaged Commonwealth to prepare designs for improvements, including several concept alternatives for rehabilitating the Pavilion Alleys and construction documentation to renovate one of the alleys as a model for future work. Commonwealth also designed a system of low, native stone retaining walls and drainage systems to protect historic blue ash trees along McCormick Road and prevent water damage to adjacent historic buildings. The historic landscape study project received a Merit Award from the Virginia Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Riverside Park

Lynchburg, Virginia

Commonwealth developed a historic master plan for the future development of Riverside Park, which was established in 1922 to serve the streetcar suburban neighborhood of Rivermont. The park was developed on 47 acres of gently rolling land along a line of bluffs above the James River. During the Great Depression, workers from the WPA and the City Farm built overlooks and shelters, rock walls, drives, and trails. By the 1940s, roadways, plantings, walkways, and a swimming pool were all in place. During the expansion of Lynchburg in the late twentieth century, Riverside Park remained intact, but neglected, and needing improvement and revitalization. Commonwealth was commissioned by the City of Lynchburg to develop the plan to guide protection of its historic resources and provide a vision for the future. The project began with research to trace the history of the evolution of the park, including the closure of its swimming pool in 1961 to prevent racial integration and its subsequent use by the African American community to celebrate “Black Liberation Days.” Commonwealth worked closely with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, representatives of key stakeholder groups, and the general public, facilitating stakeholder meetings and public forums to solicit public input. Additional services included refining a design for a shelter for the historic train kept in the park.